Counting our blessings at Christmas

Well time has run away with me and here I am on Christmas Eve reflecting on a year of huge change for us.

Last Christmas we had no idea where we’d be living at this time, or even if we’d have a roof over our heads at all. We had no security, no money, no idea what the future might hold and it was very, very scary. We were living one day at a time and barely hanging in there.

Gradually, we’ve taken little steps forward and now we are living in a house that’s plenty large enough for us all to remain together as a family unit, complete with cats, and we are very lucky to have such a lovely landlady. By pooling our resources, and working hard we’ve managed to just about make ends meet. Billy was working part-time at first but now has a full-time job which he is enjoying getting his teeth into. Nel was unemployed but is now very settled into an NHS admin apprenticeship and is very much part of the team at work, valued for herself – and spoiled to bits by everyone in the department! Raji was doing a job that didn’t really challenge him enough but is now in a role which suits him well and pays more. I have spent the year working as much overtime as possible, with just one week off in July, but this has kept our heads above water and I do enjoy my work and feel a part of the team. Stephen still works at the pub which he enjoys but the hours aren’t sufficient to support him, unfortunately. So we’ve had small but positive changes since last Christmas – little steps;right direction.

This has led to me really feeling the true spirit of Christmas and I am fully in the mood to count my blessings.

I have my family all together and getting on with life by helping each other through. I have a nice home. I have absolutely wonderful friends and family who have supported us though this tricky year. I have the things that really matter.

I’ve cut down a lot on Christmas presents – and even cards – as have many people in this financial climate. I’ve made many presents myself and have enjoyed doing so and put a lot of TLC into them. Those presents I have bought were carefully chosen and I’ve made use of special offers, discounts and loyalty schemes, but I am pleased with what I’ve bought. People won’t have umpteen things, just one or two presents that I hope will really please them. It’s all so much more special and meaningful for me this year and I hope the recipients feel it too.

On the other side of the coin,I feel lucky to have such lovely, kind, caring colleagues who are also good friends. I’ve already received lovely messages in cards and presents from unexpected quarters. I’ve enjoyed sharing Christmas cheer with people who work very intensely all year and feel privileged to get on so well with people of all roles within the hospital. But more than this, these people have supported me through bad times and shared good ones every day so what little I’ve done for them at this time of year to put a smile on their faces has been very enjoyable to do.

At home, I have two children of whom I am proud and whom I am happy to call friends as well as family. I am lucky to have my wonderful mum who, as you know, is a huge part of my life and gives me so much by way of support, love and fun. She doesn’t live with us but is nonetheless part of this family unit and I don’t know what I’d have done without her. Raji, of course, does live with us and enriches our household; I must admit I can’t imagine him not being with us now. We get on really well and he is more a brother and friend than “just” an in-law. As for Billy and I, we’ve actually managed to spend some time together here and there and now that he’s settled in to his job and life has calmed down a bit, he’s more like the man with whom I fell in love. Dare I hope we can pause to enjoy each other for a while?

As you may know, our darts team is made up of very good friends and they too have seen us through this year. I love my Friday nights playing darts in their company. In good times and bad, we can just relax and be ourselves with them, and they with us. I miss them if I don’t see them one week and I don’t get bored with their company if we get together for other things (such as watching football in the pub and generally leading each other astray πŸ˜‰ ) Their easy company and solid friendship has kept us going at times when we’ve really needed propping up.

I also have my beloved City to keep me entertained and through my football I have many friends who enrich my life. I have my City friends, some of whom I meet up with at games, some I only see occasionally. I have friends who are fans of other football clubs, some of whom I know well, some I’ve only met once or twice. Football brings me closer to my brother when we exchange match day texts as the geographical distance between us and busy lives make it all too easy to lose touch otherwise. All of these people make me feel a part of something, a sense of belonging and offer humour and opinion to entertain me. Many of them do more and have generously given me help, advice, support, access to match tickets and are dear friends. (You know who you are.)

So as I sit here counting my blessings and looking forward to a family Christmas and New Year with friends, I would just like to thank each and every one of you who has helped make this year bearable and kept us going. THANK YOU! I wish you a Christmas time full of your own blessings, with love, laughter and light and I hope that 2014 will be all that you hope it will be.

Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year to all my wonderful family and friends.

Our annual night out (Cricket dinner 2013)

Where does the time go? On 15th November, it was once again time for Billy’s cricket dinner at Langley Castle.
(See previous year’s posts: 2012, 2011, 2008, 2007. )

This also happened to be Stephen’s birthday so I checked with him first that he didn’t want to do something en famille for the occasion. I was unsurprised when he said not! πŸ˜‰ We hadn’t know what to get him as a present so took a bit of a chance and bought him DFDS ferry vouchers for a trip to Amsterdam as this was something he fancied doing. Mum had done the research and she also bought him ferry vouchers, and she has offered her travel agency experience when it comes to booking. Happily he was really pleased with them and is now enjoying planning a trip. πŸ™‚

Still being a smaller clothing size means I don’t have many clothes that fit (it’s now been a year since my bizarre, unexplained weight loss, yet I can’t quite accept that I won’t go back to my normal size and be able to wear my old clothes again.) I had an inexpensive green dress I could wear though it wasn’t really quite dressy enough, but teamed with an evening shrug and some high heels, it did the job. Nel let me use her green eye-shadow and my friend Helen loaned me her beautiful green shell necklace, earrings and bracelets – thanks girls πŸ™‚ The menfolk scrubbed up rather nicely and submitted to a photo before we left. (I reckoned my heels made me the same height as them for once, but they said not…)

Thorn between two roses

We met with everyone at the cricket club ready for the coach taking us to the castle with the usual sweepstake on the length of the guest speaker’s after dinner speech πŸ™‚ The venue was as beautiful as ever and the meal superb. (Sun-blushed tomato & basil soup topped with a parmesan straw; Roast loin of succulent pork, apple & pancetta stuffing, fondant potato and seasonal vegetables; Baileys cheesecake, caramel ice-cream and chocolate sauce; coffee and mints.)

As usual I couldn’t quite manage all my main course so Billy finished it off for me. However, he didn’t return the favour with the divine dessert, despite the fact that he doesn’t like cheesecake! πŸ˜‰ It really was a gorgeous meal, the company excellent and the speeches amusing. There were lots of prize winners who were enthusiastically congratulated, and we even won 1st prize in the raffle! (A lovely wicker hamper full of food and drink goodies, which we’re going to save for Christmas πŸ™‚ )

Chairman Webby playing host with the most photo WP_000285_zpsafa7d401.jpg Speaker Foxy making us laugh photo WP_000286-Copy_zps07f6bb3e.jpg Beautiful venue photo WP_000288_zpsf638467d.jpg Can't beat dinner in a castle photo WP_000289_zps1833c73c.jpg Prize winners and their prizes photo WP_000292_zpsed76667f.jpg Getting restless now photo WP_000294_zps536d0fc7.jpg

The coach came to take us back to Hexham at around midnight, Raji and I then coming home, with Billy joining a few others in the pub until the wee small hours. It had been a wonderful evening and worthy of being our annual night out πŸ™‚

Billy

All in green

Together

All by myself: Part 2

For good measure, the good old English weather decided to play ball and we’ve had a heatwave. A real summer! I had actually forgotten what it feels like to wear minimal clothing, feel the warmth of the air on the skin, and to relax in comfort. I’ve walked round barefoot, worn summer dresses and cropped trousers, and I’ve had all the doors and windows open with fresh air wafting through the house. I’ve even got a little bit of colour from taking breaks in mum’s lovely garden; I’d forgotten my skin could do that! Wonderful!

Over Thursday and Friday I finished the decorating, putting 3 coats of paint of the walls and one on the ceiling and was very pleased with how well the damp-damaged wall came out πŸ™‚

I also washed the car – twice! I was sure I’d got some car shampoo at mum’s but couldn’t find it so used washing up liquid to do it as the car was so filthy. But the next day it had more bird mess plus a load of dust and leaves all over it again so I went and bought a proper shampoo with wax and did the job again. This time the difference was very noticeable – it seems there IS a reason we have special stuff for car washing πŸ˜‰

On the Friday morning I was obviously missing going to the gym and I like being physically active, so decided to walk in to town along the footpath and I thoroughly enjoyed a good walk at a nice strong pace. The weather was already gorgeous at 9am and the route was fairly quiet. I treated myself to an iced coffee at my favourite coffee shop before a wander around town for some souvenirs for colleagues and family and then returning.

Iced coffee at Costa

On Saturday morning my friend Lee was in town to see his parents so he came round for a catch-up and a cold drink in the garden which was lovely. We then went to look at a car he was interested in buying and he helped me pump up the leaky tyres on my car – Oh, OK, I confess. He did it for me while I watched πŸ™‚ (It’s really annoying but the tyres have to be pumped back up to 32 psi every week, having gone down to between 24 and 8 psi!) I also fetched the family meat pack I’d ordered from mum’s butcher as it’s good value (8 family meals for Β£30, excellent quality meat) Then all I did was sort my stuff out before fetching mum from town when her holiday coach dropped her off in the evening.

We had a lovely evening and she led me astray, treating us to a Dominos pizza which we ate in the garden accompanied by a bottle of wine. We stayed out there until way past 9pm – it was just so pleasant and we were so relaxed we didn’t want to move πŸ™‚

On Sunday we felt we wanted to share the last day of our respective holidays doing something holiday-ish, so we went in to town and walked along the river, and back up through the park. We stopped for coffee at the Blue Moon cafe by the river, but alas, its name was better than its coffee or shortcake.


Blue Moon πŸ™‚

We shared one last lunch in the garden – Schnitzels, salad and jacket potatoes – and then it was time for me to pack the car and head home. I had a really enjoyable drive home in the warmth, just appreciating having my car for the last time for a while. As I got nearer home, I started dreading to think what state the house would be in but tried not to think about it.

The biggest “holiday” of my time away had been enjoying living in a clean and tidy house, clearing up after myself as I went along so that nothing built up into a big job. It’s just so much easier that way and so much less stressful. THIS is how a kitchen sink area should look:

Clean & tidy

NOT this:

Washing up galore πŸ™

I was home by mid evening and even managed to park right outside the house which was a pleasant surprise. I had time to unpack and to give everyone their little bits and pieces and then I could settle for the night before diving back headlong in to work again next day. However, I did feel that I’d had a real holiday with precious, heavenly time alone, calm, relaxing surroundings, and glorious weather to top it off. What a contrast to this time last year! Lucky, lucky me πŸ™‚

St George’s Day 2013

Happy St George’s Day dad


A little narrative to go with the following picture story:

Venue: Hexham again, Mum coming to see the new house as well as to share our special day in memory of Dad.
Red rose buttonholes: (“Naomi” roses) from Dillies – perfect as ever.
Cards and presents exchanged: mum’s to me was a back pack/gym bag with the cross of St George (LOVE it!), mine to mum was a box of notelets with roses on them, and a St George’s flag seat belt pad.
Visited: Hexham’s Old Gaol and border history museum then had coffee in Caffe Nero. In the evening we had a perfect meal in The Heart of All England (Hexham) and lingered for some time before popping in to the Globe for a last drink on the way home.
Next Day: We had afternoon tea at Langley Castle to round off our patriotic treats πŸ™‚

(If this looks blank, right click, click “reload” and you should see the photo story πŸ™‚ )

A lovely long Easter weekend

I’d been looking forward to having a run of 4 days away from work and Billy and I started it by driving down to mum’s on the Thursday night so we would have all day Good Friday together. Billy had a relaxed with a book while mum and I popped to the shops when they opened. We got loads of bargains! πŸ™‚ Between us we got 15 items for Β£10.85 in the 99p shop, mum bought something she needed that was on special offer, and then on the way home we EACH picked up a free bottle of car screen wash from Halfords, courtesy of O2 Priority Moments. Since mum doesn’t have a car, I now have 2 bottles and just in the nick of time since mine has just run out πŸ™‚ We all enjoyed a veritable feast for lunch – roast lamb with all the trimmings, accompanied by an absolutely gorgeous bottle of wine and then Chocolate Eclairs for dessert. Mmmmmmm. The weather was actually beautifully spring-like so we went for a post-prandial walk along the new footpath into Wales which was most enjoyable. In the evening we enjoyed crumpets and hot cross buns whilst watching Mum’s boys who had a rare TV appearance – sadly though, they didn’t fare well πŸ™

The next morning was match day; family derby day! We took our time over breakfast and mum packed us lots of food for the day whilst I tried to pack the car with all the household bits mum had donated to us, plus our bags and Easter bags from mum. I got there in the end but I do miss my bootspace. Billy and I popped in to B&Q on the way out of Chester as I had a Β£10 voucher I could spend in there courtesy of my online market research surveys and we wanted to pick up an instant fire bag or two if we could. We couldn’t find them so had to ask and were directed to the “porch-type” area where we found their last few going cheap – Β£2 each instead of Β£3.98 – so we got 5 which was brilliant πŸ™‚

Then it was off to Manchester for the match. I needed to meet up with a friend who had my ticket having used it for the last game and then Billy wanted to pop to the pub to meet with some of our City friends. He was ahead of me (but holding my hand) as we went in to the pub and the bouncers on the door asked for his match ticket to prove he was a home fan as he wasn’t wearing any colours. Just as he was wondering what to do (since opening his mouth would give away his accent!) they caught sight of my coat/scarf and waved us in with an apology. (I would say he owes me but to be fair we usually enjoy the “protection” of the home fan on these occasions.) We had a pleasant pre-match drink and then I left Billy there as the pub is close to the away end anyway and I like to be in my seat much earlier than he does. The match itself was pretty tame I felt – I was even almost-bored for much of the first half though of course it helped that City looked well in control. That said, it took until just before the break for us to score one that counted and typically it was 2 not just the one (could have been 3 but the Toon keeper was in form!) The second half was very comfortable and but for aforementioned keeper, the final score would/could/should have been more than “just” 4-0, though I did think Newcastle were going to score one as the clock ticked down. As ever, the match went too quickly for me as these days I appreciate every second of being there and just want it to go on so I don’t have to leave. Amusing moments were when Newcastle fans sang their usual irritating “They’re here, they’re there….empty seats” and home fans responded with “You only sold one tier πŸ˜€ (To be fair, from my wider view of both sides of the coin, both chants were equally unmerited (home fans hadn’t all arrived at that point and away teams no longer get their allocation on a sale-or-return basis I believe.) The atmosphere was poor – home fans were very quiet and the poorest I’ve witnessed for a very long time. Similarly, I’ve never known Toon fans to be that quiet for lengthy spells at a time. The best entertainment I go was from one of my season ticket neighbours who had a touch of heartburn and was asking everyone if they had any Rennies πŸ˜€ I foresee much mileage in this for future fun. I met Billy back at the car and for once I didn’t get a load of bitter raging – but then there really weren’t any controversial incidents in this fixture for a change. We had a nice easy drive home, though couldn’t get parked anywhere near the house so had to quickly unload then park the car and walk back home.
MCFC’s 60-second highlights here
MCFC’s extended highlights here
Kippax Blue’s photos here

The next day being Easter Sunday, of course we went to Pat’s for dinner, booze and games. Dinner was roast pork followed by not one, but two, puddings and then cheese and crackers. It was a little strange with no Grandpa this time (sadly he passed away a couple of months ago but we were privileged to be at his funeral and say goodbye.) The girls actually did better in Trivial Pursuit than usual though of course, the boys still won – the girls won the Logo game, the boys won both Taboo and Trivial Pursuit. We really MUST get some new questions for TP for next time though as even the girls are starting to remember the answers and event he debates, for some of the cards now! There are also an increasing number of questions for which we dispute the answers and/or wording. It was a great day as usual and we finally got to bed at 2am! πŸ™‚

All that crammed in and still a day left for me to do some homemaking which was wonderful. This house really requires a full time homemaker I feel but I did manage to get a lot done and was pleased over all with a lovely four day break from work πŸ™‚

Homemaking

New Year with good friends

In a change to our previous New Year’s Eve arrangements, this year we went to Roger and Steph’s new home to see out the year. There were about 15 or so of us altogether, including Simon and Claire who were up for a few days so it was a nicely sized gathering. There was certainly plenty to drink, and besides chatting, there was the Wii for those who wanted to play, as well as a shot-drinking roulette game and later a logo quiz board game which was played boys v girls. Raji, Steph and Dan played the roulette game enthusiastically, knocking back shots of Cactus Jack (which looked revolting – especially the Jaffa cake flavoured one!) It was nice to see Raji letting his hair down, though he didn’t actually get that drunk. The board game later was made interesting by the fact that both question masters were under the influence and had great difficulty reading the questions, one of the girls seemed determined to help the boys, another moved to sit far enough away that the girls’ conferring could be heard by the boys enabling them to steal a question or two and best of all, the rules appeared to be made up as we went along πŸ˜€ It was a lovely night with lovely people – these people are amongst our closest friends and it was just so nice to relax with them and see in the New Year together πŸ™‚

When we got home at around 2.30 am, it was to discover that Stephen’s tonsillitis/cold had been bad enough that he was sent home to bed after dragging himself in to work, and Nel had been poorly enough that she’d had to cancel her own NYE plans. πŸ™ My poor babies are both now on herbs and working through the bug, which is a nasty one.

I was unsurprised that I didn’t sleep at all, as I had missed both my deep sleep cycles (I seem to have one around 11.30pm and one about 2.30 am ) so I just relaxed in bed (listening to Billy snoring πŸ˜‰ ) and got up not much later than usual really. What WAS a surprise was that I felt absolutely fine, unlike previous years, and yet I’d probably drunk slightly more! I wasn’t complaining!

We spent the afternoon with Pat, having collected Paul and Steph on the way, and once again we had a fantastic day with them, Natalie and Grandpa. We were stuffed after the roast pork dinner with all the trimmings, followed by Christmas pudding, profiteroles and later cheese and biscuits. Naturally the drink flowed freely too, and I had had some sneaky peeks at the MCFC Twitter commentary of the City 3 v 0 Stoke match and was delighted with the result. (MCFC’s 60-second highlights here and extended ones here.)

Between dinner and pudding we played the reindeer racing game which had come from the crackers – think some of the reindeer must have been sneaking some of Santa’s sherry!(If video clip doesn’t show, right click the blank area and click “reload“)

We also played Pat’s own variation of build-a-beetle with felt pieces assembled in to snowmen – a simple but fun game. I seemed to throw load of 6’s and Pat could only throw 1’s! We then played our Nasty Horse Racing Game which we took with us and that was fun with some devious moves and downright persecution for the most tenuous of reasons (yes, I admit it – I knocked Natalie’s horse out of a race simply because it was red! :D) We then managed a couple of quick games of Trivial Pursuit though this was pretty tame compared to usual (probably because Barbara now lives in Oz and wasn’t there.) The girls even managed to get all their pieces of pie in the first game but simply could get to the middle for the final question and then correctly answer before the boys cleaned up. (Of course if the girls would stop being preoccupied with landing on the pink questions all the time, they might do better – did I mention that I hate the pink ones? πŸ˜‰ )

Despite my lack of sleep the previous night, I did OK but was definitely very tired and ready for home by the time we got a call from Nel asking us to come home soon. Her cold had given her hearing loss in one ear and she was feeling a bit scared, so we wrapped up the game and walked home. Nel was fine once she knew we were home so we wished her goodnight (well, morning) and crashed into bed.

We do love spending New Year with our friends. Happy New Year.

Precious family time at Christmas

Having finished work on the 21st December, I had two glorious weeks off ahead and got it off to a good start with a couple of nights out. On the Friday night, the darts team got together for a few drinks and light-hearted darts games at the club – this is becoming a very nice tradition now πŸ™‚ On Saturday it was Billy’s work Christmas dinner and this was held at The Heart and was a wonderful night with fantastic food and company. I thoroughly enjoyed it and it put me nicely in the Christmas mood. I then had a couple of days staying indoors to potter around at my own pace preparing for Christmas so it was all very relaxed and un-rushed πŸ™‚ Since I’ve scaled down present buying considerably over the last few years, there weren’t too many to wrap and I’d just about got cards written and posted a few days previously, so I could concentrate on the house and food.

Mum had given us a food goody-bag in which there were really well thought out supplies such as chocolates and biscuits, savouries and beverages and even a treat for the cats and hamsters! (Thank you mummy πŸ™‚ ) We also had another thoughtful gift of an M&S gift card from another relative and this was spent on fresh foods such as dips, pate and cheeses. Finally, my Tesco Clubcard vouchers covered the turkey, a beautiful piece of silverside beef and the other Christmas essentials. All that was left was for me to bake so on the Sunday I made my shortcrust and puff pastries and on Christmas Eve I cooked the meats and did the baking.

Coleslaw and Sausage Rolls

Mince pies and Christmas cake

and set the table

Christmas table

When I went to bed that night, I was just drifting off when I suddenly remembered the kids’ stockings! ARGH! Stephen had gone to work and wouldn’t be home until midnight or after so I could put his on his bed and he’d find it when he came home. But Nel was still up and not likely to go to sleep until the wee small hours; what to do?! As I leapt out of bed Nel called out “Have you just remembered what I have?” and so I went in to her to discuss my dilemma. At no point did she deny that if I left her her stocking now, she’d immediately examine its contents πŸ˜‰ I suggested I placed it somewhere “just so” and she was to get a clock and take a photo to prove it hadn’t moved until after midnight, and she came up with the idea of hanging it on the hook under her clock, which also happens to be on the wall that backs on to my bedroom – so I’d hear her if she tried removing the clock to alter the time! For the final touch, I stapled the top of the stocking so she couldn’t try peeking without touching and we took a photo to show its exact position:

Nel’s Stocking!

She took another at midnight – though in fact Billy (who had spent all afternoon and evening in the pub) returned around midnight and vouched for the security of the stocking at that point πŸ˜€ I don’t know! You’d think when your children are adults, they can manage to wait for their stockings wouldn’t you? πŸ˜‰

The next morning I enjoyed some peace and space whilst everyone else slept and I prepared the veg etc before they emerged at 11 am. Nel sorted the presents and took her own upstairs to open alone (after her diagnosis of autism we started this last year and she was able to fully enjoy presents for the first time) and then everyone gathered in the living room to open our presents together – with Nel opening the cats and any family ones.

The cats enjoyed the wrapping paper pile in the middle of the floor πŸ™‚

As usual, we had some lovely and perfectly chosen presents, including these beautiful Christmas ornaments which a few of the secretaries at work had given me (so unexpectedly that I’d burst into tears when they presented me with them along with a couple of bottles of wine!)

Photobucket

After clearing up and making a couple of family phone calls, I continued to prepare dinner in a leisurely fashion, and it all came together nicely for a relaxed and enjoyable meal – with the usual naff crackers, lots of laughs and everyone enjoying the food (and drink!) After clearing up, Raji and I did the washing up and watched the Queen’s speech (unfortunately the main thing I noticed was that those poor Military Wives had been asked to sing in public a song they clearly didn’t know as they had to make up the tune to “In the bleak midwinter” as they went along! (Why, oh why do people feel the need to take a traditional song and mangle it dreadfully to a new tune? πŸ™ )

We then settled to an afternoon of playing The Really Nasty Horse Racing Game which we had been bought a couple of years ago and somehow overlooked. It was brilliant!

Nasty Horse Racing

By the time Billy won this (having kept a great poker face when Stephen was openly convinced he’d won πŸ˜€ ) we were flagging and settled in front of the TV for a short while before bed.

It had been a very relaxed and smooth running day and I really enjoyed spending the time with my family. We should definitely play games together more often and though they may all have started out just humouring me, I think everyone genuinely enjoyed it as much as I did πŸ™‚

This time last year – I laughed at Nel and her stocking!

South West to South East and back to North East

After leaving Dorset we drove along the coast road to Sussex where we were spending the night in Eastbourne as I’d been keen to take this little detour so that I could see my brother having not seen him since Easter last year. (He doesn’t have visa or inoculations to travel north of the Watford gap πŸ˜‰ )

We’d booked in to the Bay Tree Guest House and had received an e-mail explaining that a parking permit would be given to us for on-street parking and that if there was no available parking outside we could drop off our bags and the proprietors would help us find somewhere nearby. We drove round a couple of times and couldn’t see anywhere so Billy got out, returning with both our hosts – one helped to take in the bags and the other hopped in the car and took me to a nearby road where we found a parking spot. Phew! Without his help I’d have been panicking as I love driving but hate parking. We’d been given a lovely room on the top floor and it was spacious, thoughtfully equipped and very welcoming. We only stopped long enough for the loo before walking the couple of hundred yards to the prom.

The plan had been to have the afternoon in Eastbourne on our own but having left so late, I was a little frustrated to only have an hour. However, I didn’t want to waste that hour so we went to Fusicardi’s Eastbourne’s best ice-cream shop which has been there for years and had an ice-cream walking along the sea front. (If you pay attention, you’ll know that ice-cream doesn’t agree with me so I don’t eat it – only for Fusciardi’s will I willingly suffer the tummy ache that comes after πŸ˜‰ ) Then it was time to go and freshen up to go to Rick and Mel’s.

The road to Uckfield hasn’t changed much apart from the big spaghetti roundabout at Polegate so I enjoyed a nostalgic drive and we were soon at Rick’s. Rick and I chatted about City for a bit and I gave him his birthday present and match programme, and a couple of bits from mum that she’d asked us to bring down. Mel cooked us a gorgeous roast dinner followed by apple strudel and we then relaxed and caught up on everyone’s news. Jay had joined us for a bit and naturally Billy and I made a fuss of the beautiful big pussycats who had grown into themselves since I last saw them.

In the background was the Champions League Final between Bayern MΓΌnchen and Chelsea and though it looked like MΓΌnchen were having most of the play, it was still 0-0 when we left. This was at 9pm as I was pretty tired having done a bit of driving and knowing I had a full day of driving next day, so we tore ourselves away reluctantly. We’d had a really good evening and I was so pleased we’d taken a detour to Sussex. On the drive back to Eastbourne Billy looked at his phone and said “Bloody hell, it’s 1-1 now!” Once again we had to have help to find somewhere to park but at long last we were in our room and I could relax for the night. We put on the TV and caught some of the football’s extra time and then the penalties. Even as the penalties started it looked like MΓΌnchen would probably win, but up stepped Drogba and much as I don’t like him, I had to admire his very coolly taken penalty which sealed the win for them. Well done Chelsea.

We both took a while to get to sleep but once we did we slept well and after a gorgeous, freshly cooked breakfast, we packed and then went for a final walk along the seafront. After visiting the souvenir shops for little gifts to take home, we stopped for a coffee on the beach at one of the beach cafΓ©s so I had a little longer to admire the sea and breathe in the sea air. Then it was a quick stop at the B&B to check out and thank our lovely hosts once more for looking after us so well, and then we were off. (We’d definitely recommend this guest house and I shall certainly see if they have any vacancies next time I’m in the area.)

I expected it to take a good 8 hours to drive home assuming roads were clear, though I was anticipating lots of traffic with it being a Sunday. However after a brief stop for petrol (because it was Β£1.33 a litre compared to Β£1.38 at home and considerably more at motorway services!) and another to buy a picnic lunch and use the loo at Tesco, we had a trouble free drive and made good time. Since we had the means and the time (having expected neither) we even stopped at Tebay services for a hot dinner which was a nice treat.

We were home by 8.30pm and after greeting everyone – people and cats alike – I unpacked the essentials, sifted through the important post and then collapsed into bed πŸ™‚ Our trip had been tiring in some ways but a complete mental break from routine which was just what we needed. It was also a rare chance to see our families in the south and enjoy their company so all in all a lovely holiday.

North West to South West

On Monday morning (minus voice!) I had breakfast with mum before waking Billy, and soon we were on our way south with a picnic from mum sufficient to feed 5 (thanks mum πŸ™‚ ) We were having a few days away which we hadn’t done since this time last year and which we hadn’t done as just the two of us since 2009 – though the destination was the same as that of those two trips. For this visit we were staying with Judy and Gerry but seeing Helen and Mike on a couple of days too. We had a surprisingly smooth drive down with no hold ups, and saw a few City fans on the way – who smiled, chatted or beeped horns – and a couple of ManUre ones – one gave a half-smile and the other actually talked a while and was very pleasant and congratulatory.

We arrived early evening, were warmly welcomed and then our lovely hosts started the way they continued all week and fed us a hearty meal – in fact we spent the whole visit eating extremely well (back to the gym for me on our return! πŸ˜‰ ) Even breakfasts were big meals with Gerry’s delicious porridge and toasted home-made bread with Judy’s home-made marmalade, and one morning it was pleasant enough for us to sit at the top of the garden with it – lovely πŸ™‚ Another morning we had bacon, pancakes and maple syrup – which shouldn’t go yet was divine. Judy’s evening meals included a fantastic Hungarian chicken dish which was so good I had to copy the recipe to try at home, and every evening (and for the Billy, Gerry and Mike, often the afternoon too! πŸ˜‰ ) there was plenty of alcohol too. We were thoroughly spoiled!

We had days out including a day with Helen and Mike in Salisbury, a day sight-seeing by car with Judy and Gerry exploring the area around Maiden Castle and following the route of the many burial mounds along the peak, Durlston Castle, and Hardy’s Monument, and of course we went to Poole Harbour too. There were one or two pub lunches along the way of course, including an excellent one at Wool which we’d highly recommend. The weather wasn’t overly warm, but all in all we were lucky as it was mainly dry and not too cold.

On the Wednesday we went to Helen and Mike’s for the day to help them clearing their garden and and new extension as Mike was having an op on the Friday which would render him unable to do anything for a few weeks (a fourth op to repair his leg after a rugby injury) The extension was to be the new kitchen and various people, including Gerry, had managed to get most of the units and appliances installed but there was a bit to be done to make it ready for use and Mike was keen for this to be done before his op so that he wouldn’t have to worry about it. We worked hard all morning, not stopping for lunch until fairly late (another pub lunch) and then finishing up in the evening in time for us all, including Aaron and Joe who had joined us during the course of the day, to have a curry for dinner courtesy of the takeaway along the road. Somewhere along the way I managed to get stung by some spurge which was a new (slightly painful) experience but the finished results were very pleasing and although Billy and I felt we hadn’t done much in the grand scheme of things, we had been pleased to help a little and to be there to see everything ready by the deadline set. It also felt like we were providing a little moral support and distraction for Mike who was not looking forward to his op – which went very well indeed and he was allowed home Friday evening πŸ™‚

On our last evening, we were taken out for dinner at a very nice Italian restaurant which Gerry and Judy like. Helen was looking after Mike who’d just got home, and we’d seen Aaron off on his rugby tour weekend earlier, but Joe and his girlfriend joined us. The food was divine and Billy and I both ate 3 courses which is rare for us; even anything-as-long-as-it’s-pizza Joe cleared his (non pizza) plates and polished off some leftovers for good measure πŸ˜€ Not only did Billy eat a dessert which is unusual, but he chose apple crumble which I would never ever have chosen for him. Largely because for the 8+ years we’ve been together he’s always said he doesn’t like crumble! Live this one down? Never! πŸ˜€

It seemed to soon be Saturday, the day we were leaving, though we ended up not getting away until pretty late by the time we’d had a good breakfast and then popped round to see Helen and Mike on our way. Mike was downstairs on the sofa and though well dosed with pain killers was looking very well in himself which was great. We’d enjoyed our stay with our excellent hosts who are such lovely, lovely people, and it was great to catch up with all the family news and see everyone again (even if they did have some fun at my croaky voice πŸ˜‰ )

St George’s Day 2012

This year for our St George’s Day celebrations, mum came to stay with us and have them here so that Billy, Raji and the kids could join in to suit – we’ve been saying for a couple of years that we need a bit of help with the boozing side of things since we’re pretty light-weight πŸ˜‰

First order of the day, after exchanging cards, little gifts and greetings, was to collect our rose button-holes from Dillies – and they did a fantastic job for us, even supplying pins with red beads at the heads making them absolutely perfect πŸ™‚ We then wandered up in to town and had a coffee whilst admiring the roses (and my nails!)

Billy was working just the morning, Raji had plans for the day, and the kids were sleeping, so we pleased ourselves for the morning before returning home for lunch, popping back in to Dillies on the way, where we sampled an exquisite wine called Apricot Velvet Mmmmm (think we’ll be buying some of that in the near future!) We’d planned to visit the Old Gaol in the afternoon, only it doesn’t open on Mondays πŸ™ So we decided that The House of Correction looked interesting – only you have to arrange a visit in advance πŸ™ This wasn’t looking great and the weather was pretty grim too (what a contrast to last year!) so we were running out of ideas. I had wondered whether mum might fancy The Roman Army Museum on Hadrian’s Wall, and when Billy came home he gave us the push we needed and that was where we (Billy, Mum, Nel and I) went. It was very much the kind of thing dad would have loved and he always had a special interest in the Romans so it was an appropriate activity for the day. It had changed a bit from last time I was there and the new 3D film was excellent – it really brought history to life and gave a wonderful bird’s eye view of along the length of the wall. After a cuppa in the tea shop, we drove back along the Military Road so as to continue the sense of history and to admire the views – an excellent idea of Billy’s.

After freshening up, Billy took mum, Nel and I up to town where we met Paul and the men showed us girls how to place a bet – something Nel and I had never done before, and Mum had not done herself before. We had thought to bet on a horse in the day’s races at Hexham, but were too late for that, but there was racing at Windsor which was apt as dad had been stationed there. Mum and Nel bet on a horse each but I decided I preferred to stick with something I know and bet on football instead – Leicester v West Ham. For the grand total of Β£1 I bet on it being a draw at half time with a 1-0 win for the Hammers at full time. My half time bet won me Β£2.25 so I won on my first attempt πŸ™‚ (Mum and Nel’s horses didn’t come in sadly, and mum’s football bet on Leicester v West Ham finishing 1-1 didn’t either.) The five of us then went to The Coach for the first drink of the day and toasted St George, King Harry et al, plus absent friends and any other relevant toast-worthy things/people we could think of. It was really nice of Paul to join us and much appreciated. Raji came in just before we left to meet up with Stephen and have a meal at Wetherspoons.

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After a very enjoyable meal, Stephen disappeared to meet a friend and the rest of us went to the Globe for a couple of drinks, and then on to the cricket club for a couple more. Nel got pleasantly tipsy and very loquacious and all in all it was a perfect end to a day that dad would have enjoyed very much. πŸ™‚

Happy St. George’s Day πŸ™‚